There was no greater embodiment of the mix of emotions swirling around the Scottish camp on Saturday evening than debutant prop Allan Dell, whose dismay at ending up on the losing side was fighting a visible battle with the elation of winning his first cap in front of a packed BT Murrayfield.
The injury crisis at prop has fast-tracked the 24-year-old Edinburgh loosehead into the Test arena and, along with first-time starter Zander Fagerson at tighthead, formed the starting front row alongside new cap centurion Ross Ford.
It was far from a perfect day for scrummaging, but given that two thirds of the front line only had three caps to their names, it was an admirable and, at times, impressive shift at the coalface as Scotland went down 23-22 to Australia.
“Everyone says your first game goes by in a flash but oh goodness I was looking up at that clock a few times and it wasn’t going by too quickly,” said Dell. “Second half it really slowed down and I had to go off as I cramped up a bit. But it was so good to be out there, really enjoyable. I loved it.”
Dell admitted that to lose by a point was a sickener but insisted that the squad would start the week in preparation for this Saturday’s Test against Argentina in as positive a mindset as possible.
“I’m happy with the debut and incredibly honoured to get the cap. Deeply disappointed with the loss but at the end of the day I’ll be happy,” said Dell.
“If you lose a game by 40 points you know you have been beaten. Lose a game by one and you know you could have won it. If we had just done things differently, controlled things better. But that’s the nature of rugby. It’s now how we build on it and improve.
“There has to be a fine line in the analysis of the game. You don’t want to be too critical of yourselves. You’ve got to embrace the positives otherwise you’re not going to move forward.
“If you harp on the negatives you end up taking backward steps. We had Australia there, so we’ll look at the positives and aim to fix the things that didn’t go quite right.”
Dell is aware that the Argentines always come with a formidable reputation as a scrummaging unit but he reckons the Scottish pack will relish the challenge.
“Growing up you always appreciate that the likes of Argentina and France are the ones known for their massive scrummaging performance,” said Dell. “But we’ve got a strong scrum and now have a reputation for that. It will obviously be a different challenge to the Aussies so we’ll start preparing for that and working out how we attack them.”
Meanwhile, Vern Cotter reflected on what he considered the most “complete” performance of his time in charge of Scotland but his frustration at witnessing another one that got away was evident.
Tevita Kuridrani’s 76th-minute try snatched Australia’s second successive one-point smash-and-grab over the Scots following last year’s Twickenham epic but, although not as momentous as missing out on a World Cup semi-final, there was as an element of this loss that was more frustrating. The reason is that Scotland played much, much better here than they did last October, outscoring the Aussies 3-2 on the try count and exerting far more control over the game.
And yet the outcome was the same. So near and yet so far. How heartily sick we Scots are of this story.
“I’m very proud of the effort,” said Cotter after the game.
“I think it was a more complete performance. I thought we kept our shape. What we didn’t want to do is lose our shape like we did against England in the first Six Nations game this year.
“A couple of times we lost it but managed to quickly get it back. It was a good whole display.”